The new Godzilla is in a unique position, to be at the very least a critical success — so long as it is different than Godzilla 1998, it can’t fail. Of course, in these cynical days, I do predict retro-love of Godzilla ’98 when the new one swings and misses, which may or may not happen. And going forward, the theme for this post here is speculation, but I did want to note that the original American Godzilla film was at the end of the day, a popcorn film, and a departure from what Godzilla had become as a formula. It was badly written, but it was fun, and being five at the time, I loved it more than almost anyone.
Yet I look to the new Godzilla with the same hope that real G-fans looked to Emmerich’s at the time, because this is the age of taking cheesy genre pulp and Nolanizing it. Robocop was the most recent example, Godzilla’s the next. Director Gareth Edwards said that the upcoming film would focus on a more modern theme, and from the looks of it, it’ll be the power of nature and man’s arrogance. Again, speculation, but that would fit well with the aspect of reimagining, that this would be filmed like a disaster movie, and much unlike prior entries in the series.
The strength of any modern Godzilla film must hinge upon what it is that Godzilla the creature means. In conception, he was a walking, fire-breathing metaphor. That much has been known for sixty years. His looming form and his iconic silhouette can be powerful images, but it’s his destructive force that clinches the ultimate meaning — in the end, part of Godzilla’s ability to hover over Z-grade territory (Gamera couldn’t quite escape it in the Showa era) was that every time he broke a building, the reason you were watching, it meant something. This is a creation of man that’s grown beyond his control, a weapon without a killswitch and without ideology.
To kill this nuclear weapon that can’t be controlled, you have to build an even more apocalyptic weapon, the ‘Oxygen Destroyer,’ whose implications are not explored (until Destoroyah lol) but is dangerous in itself. It’s taken on a military application out of necessity, and at that point, Godzilla hasn’t ‘won,’ but mankind has lost.
“Without ideology,” indeed, but only until 1998, because Godzilla was attacking the world when it attacked Japan and sometimes neighboring Southeast Asian cities. Coming to America introduces a bizarre and political kink in the equation of metaphor: because of WWII (Japanese aggression/imperialism), the US military dropped the atomic bomb on Japan — Godzilla appears because of this and attacks Japan — Godzilla comes ‘back.’
I can’t help but think that an American Godzilla film would be inherently indicting of the decision to drop the bomb, seeing the nuclear byproduct come and be a scourge on American soil. It wouldn’t be too different from a movie where the radioactive cloud blew over the Pacific and destroyed California. It would be… more interesting than that…
So we go back to Christopher Nolan. Not for the notion of darkening a reboot, but for the question of thematic responsibility. If you make a movie where terrorists shoot up Wall Street, can you deny the partisan images being broadcast? For background, Christopher Nolan denies trying to be political with The Dark Knight Rises, but by indulging in the situation but taking no stance on the matter, he is taking a stance.
For Godzilla, the theme exists because the 2014 movie doesn’t occupy a vacuum. It’s got a rich history, and one that’s much more uncomfortable than the goofy, kid-inside-ya atmosphere of the movies themselves. The Japanese invention of Godzilla rendered in an American film, destroying an American city, means something, whether one wants to tackle that as a theme or not. And if they don’t, what will the new Godzilla ‘mean?’
But on a sunnier note, Richard T. Jones plays a character in this movie, so let it be known that just as Godzilla does, he’s coming back… motherfuckers.